SAN FRANCISCO – It’s fairly obvious that Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is the best conventional center in the NBA, and absolutely certain that Denver’s Nikola Jokic has the most comprehensive set of offensive skills.
Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns is the best shooter, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert still is considered the best defensive center, even though his defensive shortcomings routinely get exposed in the postseason.
The real debate, then, is which team is strongest at the position?
There is an instant argument for the Sixers, with rebounding machine Andre Drummond backing up Embiid. They certainly are the most imposing duo. Averaging 6-foot-11, 280 pounds, they’re at least built to combine for 48 minutes of banging.
In a few weeks, though, the Warriors will be in the middle of the conversation.
From an objective point of view, their three-man force of 6-foot-6 Draymond Green, 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney and 7-foot-1 James Wiseman, with special appearances from 6-foot-10 Nemanja Bjelica, offers the most complete package in the NBA.
Green, the most unique center in the league, is playing at close to his peak. Looney has started all 17 games and is playing his role -- rebounding, setting screens, offering paint resistance, flipping in the occasional bucket -- as well as he ever has. Bjelica has the second-best rebounds-per-minute rate while also shooting 40 percent from distance.
It’s a complimentary group, as each brings something different to the floor.
Meanwhile, Wiseman, easily the longest and most athletic member of the group, has yet to play this season.
“He brings a whole different look to our team from a size standpoint and from a vertical standpoint,” Looney said. “He’s able to score at a high level down in the post. He’s a natural scorer. So, he’ll give a different look with his athleticism, being able to block shots and play above the rim. I’m excited to see him get out there. We play two different styles.”
Including Draymond and Beli, that’s four different styles altogether, a combination of qualities that allow the Warriors to match up with any type of opponent, no matter the concept or system. It’s a committee, with Swiss Army knife of versatility.
With such depth, however, comes a playing-time crunch. As a two-position player, Draymond will be exempt.
Coach Steve Kerr seems prepared for or, rather, resigned to the likelihood that the other three will be affected once the roster is at full strength.
“What’s being established is the approach of this team, for each individual player,” Kerr says. “It doesn’t mean everyone is always going to be happy; they wouldn’t be human if they weren’t disappointed when they didn’t play. But the awareness, the understanding that it’s about the team, it’s about the big picture and that everyone’s team will come is being established.”
To hear Looney tell it, there is little reason to believe that will become an issue.
“Steve is good at mixing and matching lineups and giving guys their best opportunity,” he said
Winning has a way of smoothing a team’s jagged edges, and the Warriors have won 15 of their first 17 games.
They’ve been impressive enough that the Green-Looney-Bjelica trio already is making their argument as the deepest group of big men in the league.
Once Wiseman returns, his presence will give newly bolstered meaning to that slogan we’ve been hearing for years. You know the one.
With the option to go big, go small or super-small, Kerr will have the luxury of turning to whomever best fits the needs of the moment.
It won’t matter whether the other team is rolling out Embiid or Jokic, or Towns or Gobert. Or whether it’s the Phoenix Suns combo of Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee.
In a league where it’s imperative to have multiple options for varying conditions, no team is better equipped in the middle than the Warriors.